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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 10:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

I'm glad you find some value in the essay!

That's kind of a typical Ives story... He did see dissonance as being strong & manly, and considered "pretty" music to be effeminate stuff for sissies. He had quite the macho passion for music, really, and had lots of complaints about people who only wanted to coddle their ears. I think he did say, "Use your ears like men!" at one performance.

Ives was pretty much thought of as a crank at the time (by those who even knew he composed), and how much he even knew about the European innovations when he wrote a piece is in question. He had a habit of revising pieces endlessly; later in life when he became more well-known & "respectable" and had heard newer material from Europe, he'd keep tinkering with his older pieces, adding dissonances! So there is much dispute about the timeline of a lot of things; but little about how innovative he was in general.
There's a very amusing story (of debatable accuracy) that when Ives wrote a song in which he appears to have used the 12-tone method several years before Schoenberg discovered it, he said, "It’s too easy, any high school student could do it..."

You're hearing Anthem in a different way than the Dead did... Lesh & Garcia were at the controls, and they said many times it was a 'concept piece', representing an altered state of consciousness, not an attempt to straightforwardly present their music.
When they heard the tapes of the unaltered live shows that we love so much, they were disappointed! (Garcia & Lesh at least tended to just hear what was wrong with the playing.) It was natural to them to cut-up & overdub shows... (Indeed, the surprise is that they didn't do that for Live/Dead, as they did on most of the others up to Dead Set.)
The Dead's disappointment with Anthem mainly came from technical things, like the muffled sound, or that it didn't match what they heard in their heads. Garcia said later, "There's parts of it that sound dated, but parts of it are far-out, even too far-out... I think of it in terms of something we were trying to do but didn't succeed in doing... On one level it's successful, in terms of the form & structure - but in terms of the way in the individual things are performed, it's a drag."

Ives did offer essays about the "story" he was representing in the music, and people ever since have used those as the standard themes by which the music is interpreted. I guess that's common in the classical field, but it seems like cheating to me. It's like the Dead offering a program for Dark Star about what the 'storyline' of the music is....well, in a way, that's a bad example since the lyrics do that of course, so maybe a better example would be Playing in the Band or Alligator or Viola Lee, where the jam has no connection with the lyrics, and no 'interpretation' you're supposed to pick up on...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 11, 2011 11:46am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

The debate over whether instrumental music should be thought of as "purely abstract" and narrative or illustrative music is on a lower plane is one of the standard debates in the aesthetics of classical music. Conventional wisdom is that music like Beethoven's string quartets is "more pure" than narrative music like Liszt's tone poems. Sometimes composers would write the music without thinking of a program, then try to tack one on later. Mahler went back and forth, sometimes offering titles and programs for his symphonies, sometimes disavowing what he had said previously.

Of course Anthem is great in an absolute sense, it is certainly the most successful of any of the band's "studio" albums at capturing the essence of the Grateful Dead, even though it isn't really a studio album! The problem is that we can now compare it with the live performances that are used as the source material, and basically Anthem is at its best when there is a single, non-manipulated live recording playing. All of the layering, cross-fading, and studio-recorded material doesn't end up adding anything positive (with the semi-exception of TC's prepared piano bit) to my ear, it just muddies up the sound and musical continuity.

I mean, if you compare 2/14/68 to "Anthem of the Sun" there is really no comparison, the straight live performance just blows Anthem completely out of the water. If the calamity of losing all the recordings from that era had happened, Anthem would be invaluable for how it captures pieces of multiple performances, and it is still important for its place in the history of the band, but I still think it represents somewhat of a squandered opportunity.

To me, it is an example of the band underestimating just how successful their live performances already were - Phil really had the idea of Ivesian hypermusic in mind, and the idea of taking multiple performances and combining them is certainly exciting conceptually, but when I listen, it doesn't have the exciting kaleidoscopic effect that I know was intended. The idea of multiple versions of the band all starting in synchrony and then starting to diverge from each other is a great idea, but I don't think its really successful when embodied in sound - the same might be said of a lot of 20th century musical experiments!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 11, 2011 12:45pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Ives Touch, Part II

But it's not like, after spending months in the studio mixing it, they would say, "oops, that didn't work," throw it out & start over! They did it the hardest technical way possible, and were probably quite thrilled with their radical concept at the time...if the album is kind of blurry & muddled, the band themselves were too... If Lesh was thinking of Ivesian hypermusic, Garcia was probably thinking, "Let's make it like a hallucination and get it all spacy & weird!"
(It might be worth comparing with other albums coming out in '68 too...Jefferson Airplane's Bathing at Baxter's came out while the Dead were doing Anthem, for instance.)

The Dead had plenty of opportunity in '68 to just release a straight live album, and the record company would've been happy to do that....but rather than consider that, the band just bickered over who in the band wasn't playing well enough!
We're fortunate that by '69 they were financially desperate enough to release Live/Dead, thanks to all those months in the studio tinkering with Anthem & Aoxomoxoa...